Presented on Saturday, October 6 in the Barn at Quarry Farm as part of the Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium "American Literary History and Economics in the New Gilded Age."
In The Ordeal of Mark Twain, Van Wyck Brooks argued, with impressive disdain, that Mark Twain was a sell out, the he "abidcated his independence as creative spirit." While he places much of the blame on Twain himself, and on his own avarice and insecurity, Brooks also takes aim at Olivia Langdon, daughter of a "stagnant, fresh-water aristocracy," who, according to Brooks, "could not help applying the spur," if Twain failed to earn. Brooks equates Olivia - and all the cultural forces that both seduced and oppressed Twain - with "those august brink-and-stucco Mansard palaces of the Middle states." He imagines Twain's creativity as having been mortgaged to the homes Twain both admired and lived in. While Brooks' almost willful misreading of Olivia has long since been dismissed, his description of Twain as an "opulent householder" lingers. Whatever price Twain paid for the homes he lived in, it seems to have been too high. Every house he builds, rents, or creates in fiction soon becomes haunted by losses of varying degrees of kind. In this paper, I'd like to explore what it cost for Twain to become a homeowner, and how Twain's home ownership participates in the shifting definitions of masculinity and success at the turn of the century.
Ann Ryan is O'Connell Professor of the Humanities at Le Moyne College. She is co-editor with Joseph McCullough of Cosmopolitan Twain (U. Missouri, 2008) and frequent contributor to journals and collections, including Mark Twain and Money (U. Alabama, 2017). She is an emeritus editor of Mark Twain Annual and past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America. In 2013, she was recognized as the seventh Henry Nash Smith Fellow for her important service to the Center for Mark Twain Studies.